Wednesday, March 30, 2011

John 4, Part Two

The work of Jesus (vs. 27-42)—Even though the location is the same (the well at Samaria), there is a shift of emphasis in this section to the work that Jesus came to do. His disciples returned from Sychar and, being the good Jews that they were, couldn’t understand why Jesus was talking to a despised Samaritan woman. But they had enough sense not to ask Him (v. 27). The woman, stricken by the meeting she had just had with Christ, returned to the city and drew a crowd out to see Him (vs. 28-30). In the meantime, the apostles urged Jesus to eat (v. 31), which He turns into another object lesson. He was very good at that, and had already done it once in this chapter—the water at the well became a lesson for “living water.” Now the food He was offered gave Him an opportunity to discuss the work He came to do. His initial response to their urging was “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (v. 32), which, not surprisingly, the disciples misunderstood (v. 33). But Jesus then explained that His true “meat”—the true substance and importance of His life—was “to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (v. 34). There is plenty of work to be done for the Lord (v. 35), and those who labor faithfully will be rewarded, gathering “fruit for eternal life” (v. 36). The sower and reaper receive the same blessing, and, at the moment, the apostles are reapers of others’ labor, though it’s not totally clear who those others are (v. 38). Possibly the prophets of old and the writings in the Old Testament.

At this stage, many of the Samaritans followed the woman out to see and hear Jesus and a lot of them were convinced, because “we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world” (v. 42). The woman’s word wasn’t sufficient to convict them; a five-time loser might indeed render skepticism. But at least they were willing to listen. The word of Christ will take it from there, if an individual has the right kind of heart.

Return to Galilee (vs. 43-45)—Jesus stayed in Sychar for two days, and then went to Galilee, where He will preach for the next two years. At first, He was welcomed in Galilee (v. 45), but as Jesus Himself had testified, the vast majority would eventually reject Him. Shallow hearted Galileans! For awhile, they were willing to bask in the light and fame of their native son, but when they realized the price He demanded, it was too much to pay. ‘Tis a major reason why most people reject Him.

The nobleman’s son (vs. 46-54)—This is a completely different story from the one recorded in Matthew 8, so don’t be confused. Here a rich man—a “nobleman,” he is called—heard that Jesus had returned to Cana in Galilee, and went to Him, and “implored Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death” (v. 47). Jesus gives him a mild rebuke, or at least teaches him a lesson—there is more to faith that just seeing miracles (v. 48). The nobleman was persistent (v. 49), and Jesus healed the boy (v. 50). The man believed Jesus’ word (v. 50), and that was the key. As he was going home—and apparently he lived some distance away (v. 52)—his servants met him and announced that his son had become well, and at the very hour at which Jesus pronounced the healing. This created a greater faith in the nobleman and his household (v. 53). Notice that Jesus did not have to go to the boy to heal him. There was no public healing service. Jesus simply spoke the word, and from at least a day’s distance away, the child was made whole. Let’s see some of the modern “miracle workers” do that. John concludes the chapter by telling us that this was Jesus second major miracle in that region (v. 54). He had done plenty of other miracles in the time being, but now He was returned to Galilee, Cana in particular, where He had performed the miracle recorded in John 2.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

John 4, Part One

Jesus' trip plans (vs. 1-4)--Jesus was already making enemies in Jerusalem, and so when word got out that His followers now outnumbered John the Baptist's, He decided to go to Galilee, where He would spend most of the next two, and final, years of His ministry. Going from Judea to Galilee required traveling through Samaria (v. 4).

Living water (vs. 5-15)--Sychar was a small, insignificant town in Samaria. It was about a mile from Jacob's well, which was apparently on the plot of land Jacob bought from Hamor, the father of Shechem, who was the young man who raped Dinah and led to the mass murder of the men of the town of Shechem by Simeon and Levi (this interesting tale is found in Genesis 34). Jacob eventually gave this land to Joseph (John 4:5), which means part of the land inheritance of his son, Ephraim. Jesus stopped at the well due to weariness; it was noon (v. 6). His disciples had gone to Sychar to purchase some food (v. 8), and while they did, Jesus struck up a conversation with a woman of the city who came out to draw water from the well (v. 7). He asked her for a drink. This surprised her because she recognized Him as a Jew (we're not exactly sure how--perhaps His mode of dress or Galilean dialect). Jews hated Samaritans, whom they considered half-breeds, and in once since they were. The Samaritans arose after the Babylonian captivity (605-536 B.C.). The Babylonians did not take the entire populace into slavery; they left some of the poorer "trash", and when others, non-Jews, moved into and began settling in Palestine, there was some intermarriage. The "Samaritans" were the product. They had also taken some non-Jewish theological positions, as we shall see. Jesus, of course, was always looking for a way to save souls--Jew, Gentile, or Samaritan, thus He directed the conversation into spiritual ways. He provides a "gift of God" (v. 10), "living water." The woman, thinking in physical terms, wondered how Jesus could produce this water, since "you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep" (v. 11). The Lord, of course, was talking metaphorically--He can provide "water"--the greatest necessity of life, and especially important in desert regions like Samaria--which has no end and will "spring up into everlasting life" (v. 14). The woman, still thinking in physical terms, requests this water, "that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw." Jesus will then introduce Himself as the Messiah.

True worship (vs. 16-26)—Upon Jesus displaying some miraculous knowledge (that the woman had had five husbands and was now living with a man with whom she was not married (vs. 17-18), the woman rightly deduced, "You are a prophet" (v. 19), though He was obviously greater than that. Thus, understanding at least something of His true nature, she wanted some clarification: "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Gerizim), and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship" (v. 20). In other words, who's right? The Samaritans believed that it was on this mountain that Abraham prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, and that, soon after, he met Melchizedek near here. So they venerated this location, since the Jews wouldn't let them into Jerusalem anyway.

Jesus endorsed the pure Jewish position (v. 22)--"Salvation is of the Jews." The Messiah came through that line. But "the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father seeketh such to worship Him" (v. 23). The Jewish age was passing; Jesus came to end the Mosaic dispensation and inaugurate a completely different one, where He would have all authority and salvation would come through Him (Matt. 28:18; Acts 4:12). There would be no one physical location for worship. It would be an inward thing ("in spirit") in accordance with the diktats of God ("in truth"). Both are necessary (v. 24). To worship Him with the proper attitude but not in accordance with His pattern is improper, as is to go through the correct ceremonies with no sincerity or devotion. God has always told man how He wants to be worshipped, and that is true in the Christian age as well. We are to gather on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:1-2), where we sing (Eph. 5:19), pray (I Cor. 14:15), partake of the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:20), give of our financial means (I Cor. 16:2), and study from God's word (Acts 20:7). This is the "truth" (God's Word, John 17:17), by which we "must" abide (John 4:24). But again, that worship must also be "in spirit," with true love, devotion, and appreciation to Him. The final part of this section of John 4 has Jesus flat out telling the woman that He is the Christ (vs. 25-26). He didn't do that very often, but in this case He obviously found it propitious to do so.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

John 3, Part Two

“For God so loved the world” (vs. 11-21)—The apostle John often has Jesus speaking of heavenly matters, which can be somewhat difficult to understand. The “We” of verse 11 perhaps refers to the godhead in its totality. Jesus came down from heaven and is trying to tell men about it, but “you do not receive Our witness.” Men, by and large, don’t accept Jesus’ interpretation of earthly matters—things they can see—so they certainly aren’t going to accept what He says about heaven—things they can’t see (v. 12). Jesus is the only one qualified to speak of heaven because He has been there and, in some sense, still “is in heaven” (v. 13). And His crucifixion is what will save mankind from sin (v. 14). The faith of verses 15 and 16 is obedient faith, not faith only. Verse 16 is, indeed, a very beautiful and powerful verse, but must not be taken out of context, or alone, as the totality of what God says about how men are to be saved. We already saw, earlier in this chapter, that a “new birth” by “water and Spirit” is necessary, and thus how can verse 16 mean faith alone? God wants all men to be saved, not lost (v. 17); that’s why Jesus came, and those who have faith in Him will indeed be saved. But the unbeliever will be lost—is lost (v. 18). That can be remedied, of course, by faith in Christ. What condemns man is not Jesus’ coming to the earth or His message or anything God has or has not done. What condemns man to eternal perdition is a rejection of the light which God sent to the world (v. 19). Why do men reject the light (Jesus)? Because “men loved darkness (sin) rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (v. 19). There are people who hate the light (v. 20); they don’t want their evil deeds exposed to others. But there are those who do indeed love the truth and love the light, will come to it, and glorify God by those works (v. 21).

There is much brilliant, though simple, philosophy in Jesus’ words here. People are lost in spite of everything God has done for them. He “so loved the world”—not just “loved the world,” but so loved the world”—that He gave His perfect, sinless Son to die a death we all deserve. Yea, we deserve worse. Unfortunately, Christianity, the teachings of Jesus, the very nature of God, demand a holy, righteous lifestyle, as much as in us is. We must turn from our evil ways and submit humbly to Jehovah. Too many men do not want to do that simply because they prefer the pleasures of this world. And they live, and will die, in the hope that Christianity is not true, that Jesus is not the Son of God. It is a supreme gamble they are taking, and a vain one. But again, God has done all He can; there must be a response by man.

John the Baptist’s further testimony (vs. 22-36)—Jesus, of course, was never fully understood while He was on this earth, because His mission was so contrary to Jewish expectations. John the Baptist continued his work of baptizing and preparing men for the kingdom of God (vs. 22-24). A dispute over purification arose between some Jews and John’s disciples; this is not terribly surprising since John was preaching that baptism was for the forgiveness of sins (it always has been), and Judaism has its own cleansing rites. And some of John’s disciples complained that Jesus was beginning to steal the spotlight (v. 26). But John, being the great man that he was, tries to direct his followers towards Jesus. John recognized that Jesus’ mission came from heaven (v. 27). He’d already told everybody that he wasn’t the Christ. John is “the friend of the bridegroom” who “rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.” So John himself was very joyous to know of the coming of the Christ (v. 29). And, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (v. 30). Jesus came from heaven, spoke heavenly things, not earthly, and “is above all” (v. 31). All He is doing is testifying of what He has seen and heard—of heavenly things (v. 32). Jesus is the only one qualified to do so. But “no one receives His testimony”; that’s a hyperbole, of course, because many men did receive Christ’s message, but most did not. Yet, at the time, very few understood Him. God sent Him to give the full measure of the Spirit’s message (v. 34). There is a close bond between Father and Son, and salvation and the preaching of that message is now in Christ’s hands; that is my understanding of John’s enigmatic statement that the Father “has given all things into His (Christ’s) hand” (v. 35). It could also be a statement of authority, such as Jesus said in Matthew 28:18. Belief in Jesus leads to everlasting life; disobedience leads to the wrath of God (v. 36). There is a difference, in verse 36, between the “believes” in the first part of the sentence, and the “believe” in the latter; they are different Greek words, and the latter means “obey.” The American Standard Version accurately translates this; the KJV and NKJV don’t make the distinction that they should. Obedience is necessary for salvation (Hebrews 5:8-9).